Fremantle was abuzz on Sunday, August 28 as forward thinkers in the nature play movement gathered for Nature Play WA’s inaugural Children and Nature Conference.
The audience of nearly 300 included a broad spectrum of participants: educators, parents, environmental and health professionals, and representatives from both the State and local government; a group exemplifying WA’s growing dedication to the message of the importance of nature and play in the lives of children. Throughout the day keynote speakers regularly took time to congratulate attendees for taking the initiative (and giving up their entire Sunday!) to attend, and the enthusiasm in the room was palpable. Presentations provided plenty of inspiration and facts that can be utilised when furthering the discussion of the connection between nature and positive childhood outcomes.
The day’s entertaining MC - beloved Aussie comedian and Friends of Nature Play WA Ambassador - Peter Rowsthorn kicked off proceedings by inviting to the stage Matthew McGuire of the Whudjuk people (local to the Perth area) for a resonating Welcome to Country, followed by an address from Nature Play WA CEO Griffin Longley who talked to the value of letting kids “make stuff ups, and make stuff up.”
The first keynote presentation was delivered by WA’s own former Chief Scientist and Western Australian of the Year Professor Lyn Beazley who spoke about the need to nurture and encourage curiosity and scientific sensibility in children through positive experiences in nature. She praised activities that inspire awe in children, and outlined very clearly the need for the younger generation to connect with nature, in terms of health and wellbeing, environmental conservation, and economics.
Dr Alan Logan finished up the morning session presenting a body of research that focused on the positive impact of natural environments on the human brain – particularly in regards to children diagnosed with mental health illnesses, impulsivity, hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder. His striking example of the difference something as simple as a green view through a window can have on adults and children alike resonated with the audience, as did the message of the importance of building empathy through STEM education (suggesting an adjustment to the acronym to make it Science Technology Empathy Mathematics).
President and CEO of US non-profit outdoor education organisation IslandWood, Ben Klasky took to the stage next to share a wealth of personal experience gained through educating urban children in nature. His remarkable story of IslandWood provided a real world example in which meaningful experiences in nature are used to educate.
For a change of pace, leading Australian researcher and specialist in childhood allergy and immunology, Professor Susan Prescott presented a fascinating scientific perspective on the importance of nature and bio-diversity for children. Susan was followed by the final keynote speaker for the day, Martin LeBlanc who provided insight into his work getting underprivileged kids in America to reconnect with nature, whilst successfully engaging in the political process.
Breaks in the programme provided an opportunity for futher important conversations to take place, as attendees networked with peers and perused booths from Nature Play WA, Nature Play QLD, the Department of Sport and Recreation Camps, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Educated by Nature, the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (Kings Park Education), Walk the Bibbulmun Track, Hike It Baby, Bluearth and Outdoors WA. The booths provided the chance to discover and discuss a range of practical ideas to get children engaged with the outdoors.
The conference’s packed schedule soldiered on through afternoon concurrent sessions on Nature and Education (Daniel Burton, Educated by Nature), Politics & Philanthropy (Martin LeBlanc & Ben Klasky), and Nature & Health (Dr. Alan Logan & Prof. Susan Prescott). Interest in Daniel Burton’s hands-on sensory-risk taking workshop “Nature and Education” was so overwhelming that future sessions will be run to meet demand. Attendees rolled their sleeves up and got their hands (and in some cases, feet!) dirty as they rediscovered the sensory experiences of playing with clay, and grinding fresh plants to make natural tea.
The final panel discussion provided an open forum for guests to have their questions answered by the day’s keynote speakers of Professor Susan Prescott, Dr. Alan Logan, Ben Klasky, Martin LeBlanc and Daniel Burton.
Nature Play WA would like to thank all speakers, attendees and the following sponsors, who helped to make Western Australia’s first Children and Nature Conference such a success:
Organisational Partner: Department of Sport and Recreation
Conference Gold Sponsors: Department of Parks and Wildlife, Nature Playgrounds
Conference Silver Sponsors: City of Fremantle, Childscapes, PEET
Master of Ceremony sponsor: Nature Based Play
Sundowner Sponsor: Josh Byrne & Associates, Phase 3 Landscape Construction
Want to see all the wonderful photos from the day? Check out our Children and Nature Conference Photo Gallery.